All day the payroll salespeople have been arriving.
Both payroll people and their partners are greeted enthusiastically when they reach the hotel, then whisked off into a conference room to get gifts: prepaid debit cards for our expenses, a couple of company-branded baseball caps and an Irish wool blanket.
Further gifts, waiting for us in the hotel room, are a pair of Guinness glasses and some coasters that say “I poured the perfect pint in Dublin”.
Ah yes, Dublin, Ireland.
A city famous for its cozy pubs, its foamy stouts, its peaty whiskies… and very little else, really.
(What about its famous literature? The poetry of W.B. Yeats, for instance? Well, I challenge you to name a single poem by Yeats before we continue. I can’t, at the present time, tell my Yeats from my Wordsworth or Coleridge.)
My wife Morena has sold a lot of payroll software this year, and the prize is this trip to Dublin, for both of us to attend “President’s Club” – they call it P Club for short.
Nothing like some well-organized corporate fun, surrounded by salespeople.
Did I mention I’ve recently quit drinking?
Time for some sober fun in Dublin!
The first night’s entertainment is a trip to the Guinness Storehouse… because of course it is. The Storehouse is Dublin’s number one tourist attraction. Followed closely by such things as the Jameson Distillery and the Irish Whiskey Museum.
We take a chartered bus from the hotel to the old storehouse at St James’s Gate. Apparently the company has rented out the whole place, sparing no expense.
There are some shirtless performers outside, wearing leather kilts and juggling fire or beating on drums. I assume it’s something typically Irish. We’re all encouraged to take photos next to the giant Guinness logo on the gate, and we do.
Then we go inside. And what follows is a journey through the various circles of introvert hell.
Herded like so many hair-gelled goats into the old building, we learn that the water to make Guinness comes from the Wicklow mountains; that Alfred Guinness, company founder, once offered to defend his water supply with his very life; that each pint has 300 million bubbles – the foam being precisely measured with the best modern technology; that the famous Guinness yeast has been used for centuries and that some backup yeast is always kept in the director’s safe in case of a yeast emergency. All this in the lower floor galleries, before we get to the variety of Guinness-themed bars for dinner.
Don’t get me wrong, the people are nice, basically. But since I’ve stopped drinking, any sort of large group event seems painfully boring. And making the whole evening alcohol-themed doesn’t improve things for me.
Actually, I feel like an anthropologist studying the customs of some strange tribe… or even a visitor from another planet. Planet “Self-Employed Author”, I guess.
Such are my thoughts as black-vested waiters hand out canapés.
Looking around, I try to put a positive spin on my internal monologue.
Isn’t life a miracle?
All these lumps of stardust and collagen, sitting around in polo shirts and sequinned tops, somehow imbued with consciousness and able to philosiphize. It’s all so implausible.
The atheist hypothesis seems like little more than the ramblings of a narcissistic teenager in the face of the mathematical near-impossibility of any of us existing. The one-in-a-trillion-trillion chance that a species of hairless primates should descend from the trees to develop things like air travel, payroll software and heirloom yeast is just mind-boggling.
Then again, the band is starting up a loud and enthusiastic version of “Brown Eyed Girl”, the payroll people are getting giddy, and I want to kill myself.
The Guinness experience lasts several hours, and I’m sure it’s not meant to be torture, but for me it is.
My initiation into “Mediterranean lifestyles”
I didn’t start drinking regularly until after I moved to Spain, so I guess I was about 22 at the time.
I had a flatmate back in the day who convinced me that having wine with dinner was essential to my integration into Spanishness, and I certainly didn’t want to seem weird. I’d drink half a glass of red with my meals for a while. Then a bit more. Then a bit more.
I was helped along by the fact that there was always a new “scientific study” about the Mediterranean diet, each proving that drinking every day was actually good for you.
Two glasses of red wine a day were supposed to make you live longer. It’s not much of a stretch to assume that four glasses was also just fine.
What about six? Well, you can’t have TOO MANY antioxidants, now, can you?
I was in my 20s, anyway, and healthy as a horse. I felt good, had plenty of energy, and laughed at people who “got a cold” as soon as the temperature started dropping in October. I liked to joke that between the wine, the steak and the chorizo, my blood was nothing but cholesterol and alcohol, and I was practically invincible.
Drink like an Italian grandfather, said the science. And so I did.
But it turns out “the science” was wrong.
How to have company-sponsored fun in Dublin, Ireland
The next days in Dublin contain ample amounts of organized corporate fun.
There’s a food tour – six or seven bites of cheese and crackers distributed along a two and a half hour walk around a few blocks in the city center. The second to last stop is a glass of wine with a bite of Thai vermicelli. The waiter brings me a lemonade while all 12 others have the wine.
The tour finishes with ice cream at 1 PM, just in time to go off and find some real food for lunch.
The next day there’s an awards ceremony which Morena (thankfully) suggests I don’t attend. And another group dinner at the same mediocre Thai restaurant.
At one point we take a taxi out of town to walk around the Howth peninsula with a couple of Morena’s friends. It’s early August, but the cold wind blowing in off the Irish sea apparently hasn’t heard that it’s supposed to be summer. The clifftops are covered in heather and blackberry bushes. Eventually it starts raining, and in a few minutes we’re soaked to the skin.
We return to town, and take refuge in a restaurant called Mamó that immediately sets off my pretentious bullshit alarm. Morena assures me that there’s steak on the menu, but all I see are silly long French and Italian descriptions of God knows what obnoxious thing.
Eventually we decide to order côte de boeuf for two, whatever that is. It’s 84 euros.
I still like food, but restaurants are also less exciting now that I’m not drinking. I guess I just liked getting drunk surrounded by fancy decor, all those years.
The appetizer is a single scallop, cut into slivers, for 16 euros. I’m looking around in a state of shock. It’s not like I’ve never seen pretentious bullshit before… but I guess I’ve never seen it while sober. Also, wasn’t Ireland up until recently a very poor country? This sixteen-euro scallop just doesn’t fit into my worldview, somehow, and neither do the posh Irish people sitting around us.
The côte de boeuf arrives. It’s steak. Côte. You know. Like the last syllable of entrecote, probably.
Even without ordering any 15-euro-a-glass wine, this is basically the most expensive meal ever. But that’s okay, the company’s paying.
We catch a taxi back to the city, for more organized fun.
The wrong kind of “Atomic Habits”
My problem was never the first drink, it was always the urge to have one more.
Sober me only ever wanted two drinks, tops. Two-drink me wanted eight. Maybe ten.
Alcohol is an addictive substance, and eventually, I ended up drinking more than I should have. But now that I’ve quit, and the feeling of pathos had dissipated, it all just seems like a long, very boring story.
As boring, in fact, as compound interest – but also just as powerful. Start having two drinks a week when you’re 22, and drink 20% more every year. For a few years it seems like nothing much is happening, but after a decade or so it starts snowballing.
Before you know it, you’re tipsy half the day and wondering if you’re constantly hung over or if this is just what it’s supposed to feel like waking up in your late 30s.
(It probably didn’t help that there was a global pandemic at one point and the idiots in the Spanish government made it literally illegal to go outside for several months. I spent those days much tipsier than usual, because everything else I enjoyed was suddenly prohibited. Oh well.)
James Clear says…
Every action you take is a vote for the type of person you wish to become. No single instance will transform your beliefs, but as the votes build up, so does the evidence of your new identity.– James Clear, “Atomic Habits“.
If that’s so, then what is finishing a whole bottle of wine in one sitting?
Certainly not the construction of a positive new identity. But I did it plenty of times over the years.
In fact, back when I was still working as a teacher, one of my big fears was that eventually my online business would take off and I’d have way too much free time. Of course that’s exactly what happened. And I handled it as I suspected I would: not well.
Turns out that quitting your day job in your 30s to have cocktails on the beach isn’t actually a life plan. It’s more like a form of degeneracy.
But eventually Morena and I moved up to Barcelona and I ended up trying it anyway. Digital nomad lifestyles, right? No schedule, no boss. Just a couple of hours of work every day and then off to the bar, for an aperitivo with a view of the Mediterranean.
Follow that with a couple of drinks at lunch, an afternoon nap, a couple of drinks before dinner. A couple of drinks at dinner. You get the idea.
Temperance and the various stoic virtues
Eventually this all caught up with me. Approaching age 40, I started having some (very boring) health problems that weren’t going to be cured by all those antioxidants.
Also, the science changed.
Yes, all that perfectly settled science about how drinking like an Italian grandfather was good for you turned out to be bullshit.
Now that I’m a bit older, I understand that a lot of nutritional science is, for various reasons, total bullshit. But younger me didn’t know that. He just believed what he was reading in credible old-media publications like the New York Times.
These days, even Harvard Medical School says the evidence that red wine prevents heart disease is pretty weak. Also, there’s “zero evidence of any benefit” to taking resveratol supplements.
Late in my 39th year I watched Andrew Huberman’s long explanation of all the reasons why drinking was a terrible idea. (It shrinks your brain, gives you cancer, destroys your gut bacteria, etc.) That got me to cut back. And interestingly, I found that the less I drank, the better I felt.
I soon found myself doing more research – googling things like “alcohol and cortisol” or “does alcohol lower testosterone”. These searches inevitably led me to blogs written by someone at one of several rehab clinics in the US or UK. In case you can’t imagine it for yourself, just believe me: reading blogs written by rehab clinics is a rather depressing way to spend your late 30s.
Then one day, watching Joe Rogan clips (as one does) I found one where a comedian named Nikki Glaser explains how she stopped drinking with the help of a book by Allen Carr.
By this time I had an appointment with a nutritionist to see what was up with my (very boring) health problems. So I delayed buying the book. But when the nutritionist announced she’d be putting me on an elimination diet, I grabbed the Kindle version and went to the mountains for a few days.
Carr’s book dehypnotizes you by talking you out of all your excuses about alcohol – pointing out how much our culture focuses on alcohol as a component of relaxing and socializing, almost like it’s a key part of adulthood.
He says you can keep drinking while you read the book, and I did. But by the end I was ready to try some sobriety.
I was supposed to eliminate alcohol – and nearly everything else – for several weeks while my body processed the elimination diet. After a few days I was craving tomatoes, but totally sold on sobriety. I felt better than I had in years… at least physically.
The nutritionist ghosted me – very professional – and I went back to my normal diet. But I decided to keep up my sobriety and see where it takes me.
That was back in March, so as of today I’m 162 days sober, and I feel great about it.
Relearning “how to be human”, and other sober adventures
I’m not trying to sell you on the marvels of sobriety here. I don’t want to be that guy.
And your mileage may vary. But personally, I do feel a lot better.
Within a week of my last drink, my resting heart rate dropped to an athletic 50 beats per minute. I’m staying asleep all night long, and not waking up hung over. I don’t say things I later regret. Plus I have the daily psychological victory: I know I’m doing the right thing, and not wasting my life with bad habits.
Rather than feeling conflicted about doing something I know I shouldn’t, I get to feel like a more disciplined person, every day. Every cup of chamomile tea on a sober evening at home is a vote for a better future self… James Clear would approve.
On the other hand, it’s not all sunshine and pink clouds. I’m also figuring out what sorts of problems I was using alcohol to “solve” in the past. The main one is that, apparently, I’m not very good at socializing.
I vaguely remember this, from when I was in my early 20s. And it sucked. But I’d eventually learned to do the “adult” thing, and spent the last couple of decades socializing with a drink in my hand.
(Allen Carr talks about all this in his book. It’s called The Easyway to Control Alcohol and at 3 bucks for the Kindle version, it’s easily the best money I’ve ever spent. If you’ve been thinking you’d be better off drinking less, I highly recommend it. By the way, I’m only writing this embarrassing article in the hope that it helps someone else overcome their self-doubt around quitting… so please, pick up a copy and go develop some temperance.)
Closing ceremonies at the “P Club”
Our final night in Dublin the company has organized a big blowout of a party at some clubs downtown. There are more canapés, performers on stilts, hundreds of payroll salespeople, and a whole lot of booze.
It’s what the introvert advocate Susan Cain would probably call a “high stimulation environment”. I’m mentally done with the whole thing basically the minute we arrive.
Drinking a bottle of sparkling water in front of an open bar is an interesting test of the stoic virtues. But it’s not like I’m craving alcohol. I’m pretty convinced that that part of my life is behind me. I don’t want to drink, but I also don’t want to be here in this club.
I should mention that Morena is quite supportive in all of this. But she’s a lot more extroverted than I am, and right now she’s in her element: networking with other payroll salespeople. She’s not a big drinker either. I think she has a total of about three drinks over the long weekend in Dublin.
So I’ve got that going for me: a supportive wife and home life.
The high stimulation environment doesn’t seem to phase her – supportive Morena is working the room, chatting with payrollers and payrollettes. And as usual, I’m hanging around, puzzled about what to say to people with regular jobs.
I’m at an age where guys want to talk about sports, and unfortunately I don’t watch any. So actually, I’m bored off my ass – and if there’s a way to be both bored and stressed out, I’m doing that.
But at least I’m making some intelligent decisions, finally.
“Death is at your elbow”
What would Marcus Aurelius do at a party like this?
I’m really not sure.
Perhaps he would…
“Dwell on the beauty of life. Watch the stars, and see yourself running with them. Think constantly on the changes of the elements into each other, for such thoughts wash away the dust of earthly life.”Marcus Aurelius, “Meditations“.
Meanwhile, the company has hired a group of U2 impersonators for the end of the evening – or at least a Bono impersonator and three chubby middle-aged guys. I don’t know what the other members of U2 look like. Do you?
In any case, they’re playing a series of those U2 songs I’ve heard a million times but can’t tell apart. The payroll people are entranced – all those polo shirts and sequinned tops, hair gel and fake eyelashes, collagen and stardust. I wonder if I should leave this new introvert hell, but I end up sticking around.
So. Large conventions of payroll salespeople. That’s a scene I never thought I’d end up in, but here we are.
Life is strange. And as Buddha, the Stoics, and everyone else like to remind us, it’s not going to last forever – we’ve got to make the most of it now, while we can.
Personally, what I’ve got to do is figure out how to be human again, so I can socialize without the crutch of having a drink in my hand.
Daniel AKA Mr Chorizo.
P.S. For the sake of brevity, I didn’t include a long list of all the people that inspired me on this “journey”. Honorable mention goes to Michael Easter and his book The Comfort Crisis, and Jocko Willink’s podcast. Jocko talks about alcohol in various places, and generally beats the drum of discipline for all those who need to hear it. Finally, Patrick Delorenzi’s video about why quitting alcohol was the best decision of his life. And Allen Carr’s book, which I mentioned before. He’s also got books about smoking, drugs and more. Courage and temperance, y’all!